"Give me the people, and you can keep the goods for yourself." It wasn't about the riches or spoils of war. It was about the souls, the individuals, his people who had been taken captive and whom Abram had subsequently freed. * On the fifth reading of Parshas Lech Lecha with integrated commentary of Rashi.
by Rabbi Boruch Merkur
The silence between Abram and Malki-Tzedek was disrupted by the approach of another figure: the king of Sodom. He strode forward, his eyes scanning the surroundings, taking in the triumphant atmosphere, and the lingering remnants of battle. The weight of the recent skirmish was evident in his eyes, a mix of relief and weariness.
With a deep inhale, the king of Sodom looked directly at Abram and said, "Give me the people, and you can keep the goods for yourself." His request was clear and pointed. It wasn't about the riches or spoils of war. It was about the individuals, his people who had been taken captive and whom Abram had subsequently freed.
Abram felt the weight of the king's request. This was about the return of the people of Sodom. The people were paramount. The gold, silver, and other material gains were beside the point. The king was negotiating for the return of his people, unharmed and untouched.
Was it the wealth amassed through victory or the well-being and freedom of every individual soul? Abram's response was a reflection of his character, an insight into where he placed value.
Abram, standing tall and with an unwavering gaze, responded to the king of Sodom, "I've raised my hand to the Most High, the Master of heaven and earth."
The gesture of raising one's hand signified an oath, a solemn promise, declaring an unwavering commitment to the Divine. His allegiance to the Master of heaven and earth superseded any earthly interaction or negotiation.
There's a distinct cadence to Abram's words, echoing the rhythmic pattern of his deep conviction. When he says "I've raised my hand," it's as if he's stating, "I've sworn an oath." And to whom did he swear? To none other than the supreme power, the One who owns the vast expanses of both the sky above and the land below. In this open plain, amidst the aftermath of a battle, it became evident that Abram's military prowess was his unwavering faith.
Abram’s tone was steadfast, his intentions crystal clear as he addressed the king. "Not even the smallest thread, nor even the strap of a shoe, will I take from what belongs to you," he proclaimed. "And should you offer anything from your treasury as a reward for my efforts, I will not accept it."
His declaration was an assertion of independence and pure intentions. Abram didn't want any room for doubt or future claims that his wealth or success came from the spoils of Sodom. He'd been promised blessings from a much higher source, from the Divine itself. Abram had a vision far greater than earthly treasures. He understood the transient nature of such riches.
In his eyes, relying on the fleeting offerings of a mortal king could never compare to the profound promise of enrichment from the Divine. By refusing the king's rewards, Abram made it known that his trust and allegiance lay not with kings or kingdoms, but with the timeless promises of the Most High. His actions were not about acquiring worldly wealth but about maintaining the purity of his mission and faith.
The band of warriors had returned victorious from battle, encamped under the waning light of the sun. They sat, battle-worn but resolute, knowing the day's events had crystallized a new ethos among them—of fairness, justice, and the equal distribution of the spoils of war.
The king of Sodom had made his request. Abram had clarified his own principles. The spoils, as glittering and tempting as they were, meant nothing compared to the righteousness of returning the captured souls to their homes.
Having articulated his personal conviction, Abram turned to an overlooked section of his entourage—his attendants and allies, Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre. His voice carried the warmth of a man grateful for his company, yet weighted with the gravitas of leadership.
"Let it be clear," Abram began, "that my attendants will receive their fair share of food. They've been by my side, steadfast in battle. And as for Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre— they've guarded our belongings diligently while we fought. They too shall have their portion."
Abram's view on sharing the spoils was nuanced and balanced. Yes, he had outright refused anything for himself, grounding his choice in his unwavering faith and alliance to the Divine. Yet, he also acknowledged the work and risk taken by those who had supported him. To him, their support was not a minor footnote, but an essential part of the narrative that needed to be recognized and rewarded.
He remembered the traditions of old, how this principle of sharing had been set as an example even in the days of his own adventures. Those who participate in the struggle, whether on the front lines or holding the fort, share equally in the fruits of that struggle.
The attendants and the men named—Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre—looked at each other, then back at Abram. Their expressions were a blend of humility and pride. Here was a leader who didn't just speak of values but lived them out, weaving principles into the very fabric of daily decisions.
From that moment, the ethos within Abram’s camp matured. Everyone knew they were part of something greater than themselves, bound by a common vision and led by a man of unshakable moral integrity. Their worth wasn’t just in their swords or their ability to guard; it was in the commitment they demonstrated, day in and day out, under the guidance of a leader who saw—and valued—the contributions of all.
After these events, when Abram had returned victorious from his battle with the kings and was perhaps consumed with concern over the just reward for his righteous deeds, a divine vision came to him. In this vision, the voice of the Lord spoke to Abram, comforting him in his uncertainty.
Do not fear, Abram, the voice reassured him, "I am your shield, your protector. Your reward is exceedingly great."
Abram stood in awe of this ethereal encounter. The words were like a balm to his restless soul, for they carried a promise of divine protection and a reassurance that his righteous deeds would be rewarded beyond measure – materially and spiritually.
Abram stood under the vast expanse of the starry night sky, contemplating the promise he had just received from the Lord. It was a promise that held the weight of the heavens themselves, a promise of immeasurable reward. But questions tugged at the corners of his mind, and he turned his thoughts heavenward.
Master of the Universe, Abram murmured, his voice a mere whisper in the quiet of the night, "What will You give me? I walk this path alone, without an heir to inherit my legacy. My steward, Eliezer, he is like a son to me, born in my household."
In his heart, Abram longed for an heir, a son of his own flesh and blood to carry on his name and the covenant that God had established with him. He yearned for the promise to be fulfilled not only in material wealth but in the continuity of his lineage.
“Fear not, Abram,” the divine voice gently assured him, "I am your shield, your protector, and your reward is exceedingly great."
In these words, Abram found solace. The phrase "exceedingly great" echoed in his heart, a promise that went far beyond the boundaries of human understanding. It was a promise that spoke of eternal blessings, a legacy that would extend to the ends of time.
As Abram stood there, the desert wind whispering through his hair, he understood that the Lord's promise was not bound by the limitations of the present. It was a promise that stretched into the future, a future that held the fulfillment of the divine covenant, a future that would see his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.
The mention of Eliezer, his loyal steward, and the reference to Damascus, where he had pursued the kings, were intricately woven into the narrative, revealing layers of meaning that spoke of Abram's journey, his hopes, and the profound relationship between man and the Divine. The night was still, and the stars shone brightly, bearing witness to this sacred conversation between a mortal and the Eternal.
Abram's contemplation beneath the star-studded canopy of the night continued, his heart heavy with the promise and the uncertainty of the path ahead. The Lord had assured him of his immeasurable reward, yet Abram could not help but express the deepest longing of his soul.
“Behold,” Abram spoke softly to the divine presence, "You have given me no offspring. And my steward, Eliezer of Damascus, he is the one who will inherit me."
Abram conveyed not only his yearning for an heir but also a profound question: What significance was there in all the blessings and rewards if there was no direct descendant to carry forward the covenant? He recognized the wealth and honor that had been bestowed upon him, but he sought a deeper understanding of the divine plan.
Abram's heart hung on the precipice of revelation, and once again, the voice of the Almighty resounded in the stillness of the night. The divine words carried with them a profound truth, one that would not only shape Abram's destiny but also reveal the essence of the covenant itself.
The Lord responded, "This one will not inherit you, but one who will come forth from your own loins, he shall inherit you."
The promise was clear—Abram's heir would be of his own flesh and blood. It was a lineage that would be passed down through the generations like a sacred torch. Abram understood the depth of this divine pronouncement.
As the night wore on, Abram pondered the profound implications of this revelation. He could sense the weight of responsibility and the magnitude of the covenant, but he also felt the warmth of divine guidance and assurance.
Abram stood under the vast expanse of the night sky, the celestial canvas painted with a myriad of stars that seemed to stretch beyond imagination. The voice of the Almighty had beckoned him once more, guiding him to this sacred moment.
Look now toward the heavens, the Lord commanded, "and count the stars, if you are able to count them." The words hung in the air like a divine challenge.
Abram gazed upward, his eyes tracing the constellations, each star a radiant beacon in the darkness. He pondered the impossible task set before him—counting the countless stars that adorned the firmament.
Then, the voice of the Lord continued, carrying both reassurance and revelation. "So shall your descendants be," the Almighty declared, and in those words, the divine promise unfolded with profound clarity.
In this celestial display, the Creator had conveyed a message beyond the limits of earthly comprehension. The stars, uncountable and infinite, represented the innumerable descendants of Abram, a legacy that would span generations, a nation destined to emerge from his lineage. It was a covenant that would shape the destiny of nations and reveal the profound connection between the heavens and the earth.
Abram stood beneath the starry night, where the celestial dance continued to unfold. He had contemplated the promise of countless descendants, as numerous as the stars themselves, and had believed in the words of the Almighty.
His faith, unwavering and steadfast, was counted as righteousness by the Divine. Abram had not questioned the nature of this covenant, nor had he sought a sign or miracle. Instead, he had asked a profound question: "How shall I know that I will inherit it?"
In response, the Almighty did not chastise him for seeking assurance. Instead, God revealed the path to fulfillment—a path paved with righteousness and faith. The Lord's divine calculus considered Abram's faith as a deed of righteousness.
It was not just the act of believing, but the belief itself, that had the power to transform Abram's faith into righteousness. and in this revelation, the Creator unveiled a profound truth. Righteousness was not solely a result of actions but could also stem from the purest intentions and unwavering trust.